The Last Guardian Review
The Last Guardian first announced all the way back in 2007 has at long last been released. While always curious I was never to fussed about whether this game was actually going to be playable and while I’m glad it’s finally in the hands of the players one does wonder what the team was actually doing for all those years?
Have you ever wanted to run around some ruins with a big bird, dog, cat thing which *ahem* shoots lightning out of its tail? Well then The Last Guardian is most certainly for you. All jokes aside that is pretty much the game. As ‘the boy’ players wake up alongside ‘Trico’ a beast of some description chained up, covered in wounds and the remnants of armor, in a tutorial like sequence you build its trust and soon set out together on a quest of simply heading up. The story is very simplistic but not in a bad way. The boy narrates the story, but these moments are very rare and left intentionally cryptic. The story is instead mostly told through the interactions between the boy and Trico and is more about the journey than the final destination. There is little use of cinematics, no other main characters and no collectibles or similar story telling devices used throughout the game. The story has a very fairy tale like quality to it or a very Legend of Zelda type vibe and while not particularly complex it’s unlike anything else I’ve personally ever played. As such it’s hard to criticize the story seeing as it’s very unique and more importantly the kind of story that can only be told in video game format, but seeing as the game was in development for so long one wonders why the story could not have been something so much more?
As always gameplay is the most important aspect of any video game experience and this is where The Last Guardian is at its best and unfortunately at its worst. Even before embarking on the adventure the controls feel wrong. The camera for example I found to be very sticky and delayed, there are many moments when I simply wanted to stop and look around, the camera unfortunately did not make this as nice as it could have been, at other times as many other reviewers have mentioned the camera can be truly awful in tight spaces, particularly when riding on Trico. The gameplay itself mostly consists of platforming, light puzzle solving and a sprinkling of combat, the whole time players only ever control the boy with Trico acting of his own accord or taking basic instruction from the player. Again the controls just like the camera feel delayed and as such take some getting used to, when it clicks it clicks well but at other times simply moving around can be a pain as the controls often fight against you. One of the biggest joys of the game and one of the most frustrating is Trico himself. At times Trico will do exactly what you want him to do or will even do the right thing without the player needing to issue instruction. At other times however Trico will simply not obey player commands, will often leave you behind, will stand about looking confused and so on. I’m all for creating a believable creature after all the story and gameplay are built upon the relationship between the boy and Trico, this however means there are often unbelievably infuriating moments throughout the game where I literally wanted to smash the controller against the wall or wish I could make Trico shoot himself in the face with his lightning tail.
As mentioned above when the gameplay clicks it does so incredibly well. Platforming and exploring around the giant ruins as the boy is great fun and often awe inspiring. The puzzles while simple are satisfying to solve and make use of Trico in some fun and interesting ways. The biggest surprise for me was the combat aspect of the game. It’s not combat in the traditional sense, the boy can’t directly attack the lumbering suits of armor that chase him about but the mechanics at play here are more deep than you would expect. The boy can jump on enemies to topple them over, shove them to make them drop objects or push them off ledges, throw items to stun them and even pull their heads off. When Trico is at play the suits of armor will use spears and swords to attack him and planes of glass to make him cower away. In response Trico will enter a fit of rage and smash all the suits of armor in sight as he constantly strives to protect the player from harm. Later on in the game the boy gains access to an item to take control of Tricos lightning tail which adds another level of complexity to the combat. Unfortunately the suits of armor are used sparingly and like the rest of the game these exciting situations can be plagued by the wonky controls and while fun these sections are extremely easy. It’s a shame because towards the end Trico and the boy work in tandem to successfully defeat small armies of enemies and one can only wish there was more of it or that it posed more of a challenge.
Soundtrack wise the game is pretty good. It’s used quite sparingly but what’s on offer here is used nicely for both quiet moments and the games more dramatic and action oriented sequences. From quiet subtle melodies to rousing and loud assaults on the ear drums the soundtrack has a quality to it that remains consistent and engaging throughout the roughly 10+ hour playtime. In many ways however the soundtrack can be considered to be somewhat uninspired and often comes across as very by the books. It can leave a lasting impression but equally it will often pass by having fulfilled a purpose but nothing more.
Visually many people have likened The Last Guardian to the likes of PS3 era graphics, while the game was intended for a PS3 release I find this criticism to be unfair. The game is not the most visually impressive thing to experience on the PS4 nor is it the worst. The game takes place entirely in one location and the sense of scale and the interestingly designed buildings constantly beg for exploration. The games biggest fault on its visuals however is that the entire journey looks the same, the areas at the start look the same as the areas at the end apart from the segments taking place in the games big finale. The lack of visual variety for the most part is pretty disappointing as most games always do something to shake things up visually from time to time. That said what’s on offer here can be truly beautiful and awe inspiring, particularly as you get higher and higher the game is often best enjoyed by taking a step back and taking it all in. From the peaceful tranquility of small wooded areas to gazing out at the next massive tower you have to reach.
So one part masterpiece, one part infuriating, tedious trash. Despite the criticism however The Last Guardian is unique, coming out in a year in which most AAA titles involve massive killing sprees with machine guns. It often evokes feelings of nostalgia taking players back to a time when more games like this where made during the PS2 and PS3 era. I can’t recommend that people pick up and play this, but at the same time I feel it HAS to played so that you can figure it all out for yourself.